From Chicken Soup for the Volunteer's Soul

Just Obedience

We are here on Earth for a purpose. Yes, even in prison and beyond, God uses us for his glory and kingdom if we remain in accordance with his will and obey his commandments.

George Castillo

It was Christmas 1985, and I was scheduled to preach in several prisons in Raleigh, North Carolina. Arriving late on Christmas Eve, I checked into a hotel and, while preparing for bed, flipped on CNN to catch the late news. On the screen was Mother Teresa. The little nun with the love-lined face had her arms around two emaciated young men, advanced AIDS sufferers who had been released that very day from a New York state prison to enter a home established by Mother Teresa’s order.

When a reporter demanded to know “why we should care about criminals with AIDS,” Mother Teresa explained that these young men had been created in God’s image and deserved to know of his love.

I sat on the side of the bed staring at the picture on the screen. How could she do it? Embrace those men who were dying of that deadly virus? I had to admit to myself that I wouldn’t have the courage to do what this little ninety-pound woman was doing.

I went to sleep that night thinking about Mother Teresa, and at the same time thanking God that I didn’t have to deal with AIDS patients.

The next morning I preached to several hundred women prisoners. As I was getting ready to leave, the warden asked if I would visit Bessie Shipp.

“Who is Bessie Shipp?” I asked.

“Bessie has AIDS,” said the warden. “She’s in an isolation cell. It’s Christmas and nobody has visited her.”

I reacted instinctively with, “I’m running late for the men’s prison.” Besides, I thought to myself, I don’t want to take the chance. Much less was known then about how the virus was transmitted, and, frankly, I was afraid. Then the face of Mother Teresa flashed before me, and I heard her words: These boys deserve to know of God’s love. . . . Have this mind in you . . .

“Well, all right,” I said, “take me to Bessie Shipp.”

As the chaplain escorted me through two secured areas, he explained that a petition had been presented to the governor for Bessie’s release, that it hadn’t been acted upon, and that she was feeling particularly depressed. The doctors had given her only a few weeks to live.

A chill came over me as we swung open the gate to the isolation cell, where a petite young woman sat bundled up in a bathrobe, reading a Bible. She looked up, and her eyes brightened as the chaplain said, “I promised I’d bring you a Christmas present, Bessie.”

We chatted for a few moments, and since there wasn’t much time for either of us, I decided I had better get to the point.

“Bessie, do you know Jesus?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “I try to. I read this book. I want to know him, but I haven’t been able to find him.”

“We can settle it right now,” I said, taking her hand. The chaplain took her other hand, and together we led Bessie in prayer. When we finished, she looked at us with tears flowing down her cheeks. It was a life-changing moment for Bessie—and for me.

Outside the prison, television crews were waiting to cover the “Christmas in Prison” story. Instead of my planned words, I made a plea for the governor to release Bessie Shipp, and that night on the plane flying back to Washington, I dictated a long letter to him. But the letter never had to bemailed. Two days later, Governor Jim Martin released Bessie, and she went home to Winston-Salem.

There Bessie studied the Bible, was baptized into a local church, and was visited regularly by Al Lawrence, our Prison Fellowship area director at the time. She told Al that those were the happiest days of her life because she knew that God loved her and God’s people loved her as well.

Three weeks after her release, Bessie joined the Savior she had so recently come to know.

I shuddered later when I thought how close I had come to avoiding that visit. And since that day I have never hesitated to walk into an AIDS ward and embrace dying men and women. No heroics or courage on my part—just obedience. And in this case, through Mother Teresa’s example, he took away the unholy fear that had gripped me.

Charles W. Colson

[EDITORS’ NOTE: For information on Prison Fellowship Ministries, contact P.O. Box 17500,Washington, DC 20041-0500; e-mail: [email protected]; Web site: www.prisonfellowship.org.]

Reprinted by permission of Matt Matteo.

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